Now that we've gone over general grad school resources, where to find library materials throughout the US, and how to begin searching for materials in different locations, we can get ready for the in-depth research involved in writing a dissertation. So in this section, we’ll endeavor to prepare PhD students to go on a long-term research trip abroad in the countries pertaining to our region. What we've offered here is a brief overview, but as always, it's our hope that we've managed to tackle some of the basic questions that first-time researchers may encounter.
Naturally, the first thing to think about when preparing to research abroad for a longer period of time is funding. There are fellowships and grants that you, as a PhD student, can apply to that will enable you to go abroad and conduct research. We’ve included some well-known and region-specific fellowships in the Funding section, but there are many more. When applying, it’s important to keep in mind that you may not be eligible for some fellowships if you’re not a US citizen or permanent resident. However, there are still fellowship opportunities available for international students. You can find a non-comprehensive list of fellowships that are either specifically for international grad students, or that they're eligible for, here. ASEEES also provides a list of research fellowships for students, noting the ones that international students are eligible for. Sometimes students will come across fellowships, such as the Boren, that come with a service requirement - remember to keep an eye out for those kinds of details. Remember that applying for and acquiring funding can be a stressful and taxing process since your livelihood is at stake. Start working on your application materials early, and think of an alternate plan of action. Always remember the wise words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.”
The Slavic Reference Service and the Summer Research Lab
Usually by the time that PhD students begin taking their preliminary exams they'll have a pretty good idea of which topics they want to pursue, and where they'll want to begin their research. In short, it'll be around this time that you can set up an appointment at the Slavic Reference Service. The SRS prioritizes assisting PhD students and early career scholars. We can help you pinpoint which archives and libraries in different parts of the world hold the sources you need, and we’ll help you figure out which steps you need to take in order to get to them. You’ll have at your disposal the many reference materials that are kept in the International and Area Studies Library, as well as the knowledge and expertise of the SRS staff. Fill out our form and come see us in person, or email us with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call as (217)-333-1349.
One of the main draws of the SRS is the Summer Research Lab. The SRL usually runs from mid-June to early August, and it gives scholars from all over the world access to the Slavic collections at the University of Illinois library. Just as with the services offered at SRS, the priority of the SRL is early career scholars, such as grad students beginning dissertation research. In addition to giving scholars time and access to research materials, the SRL also sponsors a series of themed workshops in which participants can share their work with others. There are Title VIII grants available to fund SRL participants who are US citizens. These grants include paid housing for up to 12 days in one of the university dorms, a travel grant of up to $500, and a research stipend of up to $1000. Attendees may also apply for the Fisher Fellow Award. In the past, there have also been funding options available for international scholars from certain countries.
In addition to the Slavic Reference Service, which is available year round to help with your research needs, there are numerous other resources available on our campus for students just beginning to work on their dissertations. These are just a few of them.
Writers’ Workshop – The Center for Writing Studies is home to a Writers’ Workshop which helps students at all levels with their writing. They host a series of events and lectures specifically geared toward grad students to help them with dissertation and thesis writing, including a Graduate Writing Group. Grad students can also make individual appointments with tutors to get help on research papers and conference presentations.
Career Development Workshops – The Graduate College offers a wide range of workshops for people in various fields and at different stages in their careers. Topics range from dissertation and thesis writing to networking, preparing for the job market, and looking into alternate careers outside of academia.
Grant Writing Workshops – The Office of External Fellowships, through the Grad College, offers a series of workshops to help grad students hone their grant-writing skills. This is especially useful for students applying for research grants and dissertation completion grants.
When preparing for a research trip on site, and especially abroad, students should keep in mind that there’ll be many loose ends and details to keep track of in the days and weeks leading up to departure. So, in this section, we’ll include a brief inventory of some of the things to remember before setting out.
The first thing to remember is your visa arrangements. If you’ve traveled to Russia before, you’ll be well aware that Americans need specific documentation in order to enter the country. The process of obtaining a visa can take months, and it usually won’t be ready until right before you set out (if you’re lucky). The visa you acquire will depend on the type of funding you have, since certain types of fellowships offer sponsorship and invitations for certain types of visas. Consult with your advisor and others who have recently conducted research in Russia if you’re unsure of what to do. There are companies that help Americans acquire visas for travel. Travisa is one of the most well-known.
Other countries in Eastern Europe and Eurasia won’t necessarily require Americans to obtain a visa in order to enter, but you’ll need to acquire documentation once you’ve spent a certain amount of time there. Be aware of this before you head out, and find out where to go and what you’ll need in order to obtain these documents when the time comes. More often than not, the process isn’t too complicated.
If you’re an international student, your visa requirements will of course be different. Be aware of how these visa arrangements may or may not affect your American visa. You can check the International Student and Scholar Services at UIUC to find out more.
Another important document that is often required to conduct research in archives will be a letter of introduction from the researcher’s advisor or institution. Be sure to look into this before setting out, since it’s better to err on the side of caution—you don’t want to find yourself already abroad and unable to enter the archives. For general and official information on visas and other travel and legal arrangements for Americans in Russia, you can head over the US Embassy and Consulate in Russia website.
Aside from travel arrangements and documentation, you’ll want to turn your attention to housing. There are various ways of securing a place to stay: through Air BnB, through word of mouth, through the listservs, in other online forums, on Facebook groups, etc. There are also websites that provide specific info for expats that may be of service in acquiring housing. You’ll want to keep in mind how many cities and countries you’ll be visiting and how long you’ll be staying in each one, as well as how your visa may restrict your travel. Some people prefer to spend their first week or two in a hostel or hotel while they secure more permanent housing after they’ve gotten a feel for the place. Just be aware of all the options before setting out, including finances and locations.
Here are some final things to keep in mind that any experienced traveler knows but often forgets. Make sure you notify your bank and credit card company at least a couple days before leaving so that you can take cash out of ATMs. You might also want to acquire cash in the country's currency before you arrive, though this may be impossible to do for countries other than Russia that don't use Euros. Be sure to acquire the correct kind of plug adapters for the countries that you plan to visit. If you take prescription meds, be sure you have enough for the whole time that you’ll be away. If you’re unable to acquire medication in advance, secure a means of doing so once you arrive. It may also be a good idea to take some basic medications in case you fall ill, so that you won’t have to worry about acquiring any while you're ill. Check the weather for the locations where you’ll be staying and pack accordingly. Make sure your note-taking devices, phone, and camera are all functioning properly before heading out.
And lastly – be sure to enjoy yourself.